at the races Going the Distance at the Los Angeles Marathon

Going the Distance at the Los Angeles Marathon

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Photos courtesy: LA Marathon Instagram

Energy. Nostalgia. Hollywood. These were some of the reasons I’ve had the Los Angeles Marathon on my top 10 list of races for nearly a decade. Also, California and Los Angeles both have a health and wellness vibe that runners, athletes and fitness-minded travelers naturally crave.

Be a tourist. That was game plan for racing the Los Angeles Marathon. It doesn’t sound like much of a plan for any marathon runner, much less for someone on her 10th one. Walking through the gates at Dodger Stadium (the third oldest baseball stadium still in use and home to the Los Angeles Dodgers) where I’m picking up my race kit at the Health & Wellness Expo, the energy is palpable. Presented by ASICS, the Expo offers multiple areas for Instagram photo ops, a DJ booth pumping tunes and an ASICS pop-up store stocked with exclusive Marathon apparel. Whatever this marathon had in store for me, there was no doubt in my mind that this was going to be one amazing race.

The next morning, standing in the predawn darkness at the start line outside Dodger Stadium surrounded by other runners, it feels so good to be back. As part of the COVID-19 safety protocol, face masks were a must for all runners, along with proof of vaccination and a negative antigen test. Safety checks aside, its as though in-person racing had never been put on hiatus at all. While runners were permitted to remove their face masks after crossing the start line, in the open field many kept theirs on for the first few miles until the field really spread out. All staff and volunteers needed to keep theirs on throughout the event.  

As the field spills out of Dodger Stadium and onto Olvera Street, despite the early morning start spectators are already outside lining the sidewalks. This area is home to a historic Mexican Marketplace dating back to the 1800s when California was part of Mexico. Even though it’s early in the race, I’m making a mental note to return as I notice the vendors setting up, and smell the faint aroma of Mexican cuisine.

As I find my pace, noticing the subtle shifts in elevation, I continue to channel my tourist spirit, a positive wave of energy that I’ll notice and appreciate much later as I muscle through the final marathon miles. I wouldn’t describe the course as hilly, yet there are definitely a fair share of shifting inclines at key points throughout the race that make it a challenging course.

Heading into West Hollywood along the iconic Sunset Strip, it’s a completely different atmosphere. A small city with a big heart, about 40% of West Hollywood’s population identifies as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s an inclusive community spirit infused with elements of vibrant rainbow striping. The Strip spans 1.6 miles and it’s hard to miss legendary music venues including Whiskey a Go Go, the Troubadour and the Roxy Theatre.

On a race course, especially a 26-mile one, an abundance of positive crowd energy is essential. Its how runners get that extra boost they need to pick up their pace and get across that finish line. Along with hydration stations at every mile, run clubs including Black Runners LA and Skid Row Runners manned cheer stations. Some clubs like Skid Row also offered up Red Vines and gummy bears and somewhere around mile 20, one run club was offering beer.

Los Angeles is different. It’s Hollywood. It’s Disneyland. It’s magic. As a marathon runner, racing in LA gives you all the race day excitement along with the experience being a tourist. By the very nature of LA, you’d expect its Marathon to be slick, and it is. What I didn’t expect was the incredible community vibe and spirit found everywhere from the moment you pick up your race kit through the finish line and onto the post-race festival. Every moment is pure joy because of the people.

Running down Hollywood Blvd, reminding myself this is a tourist run, I stop for the requisite photo ops—Mann’s Chinese Theatre, Dolby Digital Theatre, and the Roosevelt Hotel. As I passed by  the Hollywood Walk of Fame, I am giddy with excitement knowing I was touring through Studio City in a pretty unique way. As a kid I fantasized about one day visiting Hollywood and here I was, racing through these streets with thousands of others.

Noting the changing streetscape as the race course weaves from Santa Monica and Robertson onto Rodeo Drive, I also notice the Beverly Hills sign, upscale mansions and sleek retail exteriors. Palm trees line Rodeo Drive, the epicenter for luxury and high fashion, on most days you’re able to shop alongside Hollywood A-list celebrities, filled with thousands of marathon runners the area is taking on a much different vibe than its usual glamour.

Racing is personal. The marathon is humbling. The distance itself is daunting. It tests you in mind, body and spirit. It can even break you if you let it. At the same time the marathon can also bring you joy. In each step you will find a kind of pleasure in the pain. Running past the Dolby Digital Theatre, I was smiling, finding pleasure in the fun of running past this iconic landmark, along streets where celebrity sightings are possible. All the while I’m reminding myself I’m running like a tourist. There’s no question it’s an exhilarating feeling, one that I’ll also attempt to conjure up in those final miles where my quads will be heavy so I’ll need to keep my spirits light and lively.

I didn’t come here with any expectations for a PB of any kind.  After nearly two years without racing or travel I was keen to get back to both, and the L.A. Marathon has exactly the energy you want if you’re jazzed to finally be doing both once again.

My goal in LA was simple—enjoy the experience and stay in the moment. With every foot strike, every arm swing, I took note, not only of how I was feeling but also to what I was seeing around me, the green spaces like Echo Lake Park, those historic Hollywood landmarks set against the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills and my fellow marathon runners, many of whom were racing in person again for the very first time in almost two years. In 26.2 miles it’s easy to get lost in your thoughts, but I was determined to be at one with energy of this race. Racing anywhere it’s easy to get caught up in nailing your race goals and get distracted from the simple pleasure that is this incredible sport and remembering that running really is a gift on every training day and at every race.

The last five miles which leads runners along the historic Route 66 reminds even the most well-trained runner what the marathon is all about. It’s grueling and I’m grateful for the energy of the roaring squads including the LA Running Club and the Hirshberg Foundation’s Purple People Party bringing entertainment, music and much needed distraction from the pain.

At this point, I’m digging in reminding myself how far I have already run. I’m thinking back to the streets of Beverly Hills, the Sunset Strip and, and grateful my body instinctively knows just what to do. All that said, it wasn’t easy. It was a slog. It was a reminder of how fortunate I am to be racing again, after what has been a marathon season in all of our lives. Rounding the corner into that last final mile in Century City, the finish line in sight, the roar of the crowds lining the chute is amplified by the live music. As my foot strikes the timing mat I raise my arms, this is LA and I’ve just run the marathon, and I can’t wait to do it all again.

Anna Lee Boschetto is an iRun contributor and runner covering destination racing, fitness travel, food and nutrition.

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